“We hope that candidates who promise reforms in the country would hear and realize the aspiration of Filipino farmers, which should have been realized long ago.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – As presidential candidates gear to woo voters, farmers and agrarian reform advocates under the banner of the Philippine Land Reform Movement (PLRM) challenged them to address the lingering land problem, corruption of agricultural funds, and human rights abuses.
The PLRM presented its “Peasant Electoral Agenda for 2016” at the Melchor Hall in the University of the Philippines-Diliman last Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Antonio Flores, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) secretary general, said that under President Aquino’s administration, the farmers’ situation did not improve with nine out of 10 farmers still landless.
Flores said vast haciendas and plantations remain undistributed, like the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, which is owned by the President’s clan, the Cojuangcos, the Araneta Estates in Bulacan, Hacienda Dolores in Pampanga, Hacienda Looc in Batangas, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s hacienda in Negros, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of plantations controlled by transnational corporations in Mindanao.
He said that up to now, people have yet to hear about the platform for farmers and agriculture of presidential candidates, particularly Senator Grace Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.
Flores said peasants do not expect anything from presidential aspirant Mar Roxas “who will only continue Aquino’s haciendero government.”
“The absence of a program for farmers and agriculture by candidates clearly shows that the 2016 election is not a battle between platforms, but a race for power and control over the country’s resources,” Flores said.
The Peasant Agenda
Number one on the peasant’s list is the implementation of genuine agrarian reform and junking of comprehensive agrarian reform program.
Rafael Mariano, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said no matter how hard farmers work to produce food for Filipinos, they are still the poorest in the country. This, he said, is rooted in decades of farmers’ landlessness, as lands remained owned and controlled by the country’s rich clans, like the Cojuangcos and Araneta.
He said the agrarian reform program of the government — touted as “comprehensive” does not actually distribute land to the farmers. In fact, he said, it has been instrumental in several cases of landgrabbing in the Philippines.
Aside from free land distribution, the Peasant Agenda asks candidates to make a stand to:
• Scrap neo-liberal policies in agriculture that led to massive importation of rice, vegetables, sugar and other products and pull out from the World Trade Organization (WTO), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN Integration and other detrimental trade agreements;
Scrap onerous defense agreements such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca); Immediately return the multi-billion Coconut Levy Fund to the small coconut farmers;
• Provide free irrigation services and other agricultural production support;
• Increase farm gate prices of agricultural products;
• Cancel Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects that displace farmers from their lands, such as the Metro Rail Transit-7 project in Bulacan;
• Scrap Oplan Bayanihan or similar counter-insurgency programs that victimize the rural-based sectors and bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice;
• Resume peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), ensure respect for the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl), Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee (Jasig) and other agreements;
• Hold accountable those who plundered public funds allotted for agriculture and welfare of farmers, Rechannel the Conditional Cash Transfer budget as subsidy for agriculture;
• Expel the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from the country and ban genetically-engineered agricultural varieties.
The KMP vowed to raise the level of debates in the 2016 election by intensifying the campaign for genuine agrarian reform and other demands by Filipino peasants and producers. The group said that candidates who reject the peasantry’s demand to develop agriculture and the economy and uplift the lives of the peasantry have no right to hold public office.
Mariano said these issues should be discussed by the “presidentiables” because majority of the population is composed of farmers.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap said that based on the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) labor force survey in April, 11.4 million Filipinos were employed in the agriculture sector. He added that based on a 2012 family income survey, 52 million Filipinos, or 55 percent of the total population, live on a household income less than P200 per day.
“We all know that Filipino farmers are the poorest in the country due to landlessness, absence of government support, worse, they are even victims of human rights violations,” said Hicap.
Hicap said the socio-economic system that operates in the countryside perpetuate this impoverished state of the rural sector that keeps the national economy from reaching its full potential, said Hicap.